In Wednesday’s L’Osservatore Romano, Italian historian and politician Rocco Buttiglione said the church has always taught that there can be cases in which the faithful might not believe themselves to be in a state of mortal sin, or might not be fully responsible for it, which can mitigate their culpability. “The path that the pope proposes to divorced and remarried is exactly the same that the church proposes to all sinners: Go to confession, and your confessor, after evaluating all the circumstances, will decide whether to absolve you and admit you to the Eucharist or not,” he wrote.
Buttiglione’s argument, featured on the front page, marked a shift in the Vatican’s defense of Francis’s document, confronting the criticisms head-on, rather than just praising the pope’s text.
The initiative could signal a more concerted campaign by the Vatican to ensure that the “The Joy of Love” is interpreted as Francis intended. Already, conservative Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput has said that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can only receive Communion in his archdiocese if they abstain from sex and live as “brother and sister.”
So help me God for thinking this out loud but for anyone, the Church or otherwise, to demand and impose on secular people, to actually utter it – divorced and civilly married to abstain from sex and live as brother and sister – is infamy! A total negation of the human in human beings. They might as well zap people into becoming the walking dead. Then, joy of love indeed!
Married couples and people in relationships, divorced or not, will have sex and will not live as brother and sister. It’s the rational order of such arrangements. Physical connection sex being the ultimate experience of it is integral to the holistic human experience of intimate relationships. To cut that off leads to the breakdown of the relationship itself, if not of the individuals involved. In fact, permanent withholding of sex from one’s spouse is a cause for divorce.
I once tried as an experiment an intimate relationship based solely on intellectual connection. I learned that this simply is humanly impossible. One cannot be full of love for another and be exclusive yet spend an entire year together just discussing things. It doesn’t build intimacy nor a relationship in the real sense. One cannot divorce intellect from emotions and physical needs and desires. They somehow blend into one another. Besides, does one marry or have a relationship in order to avoid sex? Physical connection, touch, in the context of relationships based on mutual love is like God’s life-giving breath on the human soul. Here touch takes on a sacred quality which lends the same quality to sex between the couple (not manifest in different circumstances such as commercialized sex). To withdraw intimacy from one’s partner is the kiss of death itself.
It is easy within the world of convents and seminaries called “to be not of this world” therefore essentially closed off from the experience of realities in the secular world to make judgments based on their own lived realities of chastity, poverty, and obedience. The human life even with nuns and priests is mostly gray and largely unexplored. We are all on a journey of learning and discovery of the human life. And as Christians, we look to how Christ lived his human life.
Compassion is what I believe lies at the core of Christ’ human existence. He understands our life. He knows the human struggle. It is this that moves him to do for humans more than we deserve. I imagine him then walking among crowds. He looks with God-eyes at the sea of humanity around him- people toiling at work, making money, collecting taxes and having a difficult time at it, mothers and their daughters, fathers and their sons, the men of the church, the men in the palaces, the blind, the sick, the whorehouses, etc. I imagine his heart lurching at the sight of these but at the same also at the beauty of the human soul (“shining like diamonds in the sky”). Aren’t these people his creation after all? It is why he goes away on intervals, to regain proper perspective of his mission and build up courage to be faithful to it.
Humanity is a heavy burden. Just look at the weight of that cross, the deadweight of of all past, present and future lives. God himself sweated blood carrying it. Yet even when he could he did not wave his magic wand to put a stop once and for all to ignorance and pain around him. He still wouldn’t. Instead, while allowing free will to run it’s course he walks with us, patiently, as we make sense of our lives as he once did too. His dearest human friends abandoned him, but he has always got his Father, an other, to accompany him. He is now that Father to us; if we needed anything, anything at all, he tells us he’s right here. He understands from experience that nobody should carry the burden of human life alone. When we open up ouselves to the communion that his companionship brings and take advantage of it, we wake up one day and realize we are a new person. A bit more like our Companion. And it didn’t take waving of a magic wand.
This now begs the question, if Christ is all the more with us in difficult times what greater right has men to snatch away from us this presence at will? And why single out the divorced and civilly remarried? What about couples living together outside marriage? Plunderers? Murderers? Terrorists? Rapists? Child exploiters? Is this crusade exclusively against the divorced and civilly remarried really about God? And are not priests based on the principle he who knows more should know better not to sin the greater sinners when they do transgress? Then, do they measure themselves up by the same yardstick used on the rest? Do they bar their own selves from Communion?
The rest of the world, just like Joseph who helped carry the cross of Christ, shares in carrying the burden of Church people’s transgressions. This is why the Pharisees infuriate Christ (it may be said that Christ’ human existence was a protest against pharisees). They stand on the edges, observing and judging him. They think they’re apart from the people, above humanity. They arrange religion by the book like the book was superior to God himself. They were so attached to their doctrine they hadn’t realized they were face to face with the Word himself. To their kind, the Word brings division and confusion. To those who recognize Truth with “faith as big as a mustard seed” – “the blessed poor” – communion and understanding.
If human life is meant to be lived by the book, would Christ have sent the Spirit? Living by the book requires no discernment. We merely follow what’s stated in the manual. When we err, it’s off with the head or some other. But living the human life is so much more than what any manual could contain in instructions. Hence the Spirit who continues Christ’ mission to instruct his people in his ways.
Condemnation and discrimation are the ways of the Old Testament. In the New, Love changed all that. Love’s message is that no man or woman is such a sinner that he or she is a hopeless case. We are called by Love, to be authentic first because only then can we love truly.